Winners and losers
There were a few winners last week in the opening game in Bloemfontein, Alec Hepburn, Danny Cipriani, Dave Attwood, Mike Haley and the rest which we have already alluded to. One big winner to come out of Friday’s game was the Wasps winger Christian Wade. Wade came on after 51 minutes in the opener, as a replacement for Semesa Rokoduguni, but got the full shift second time around. We all know Wade can finish, he scored six tries against Worcester in the Premiership in April, but there has always been a question mark about his defence.
Strength in depth: England are fortunate to have wings of the quality of Semesa Rokoduguni and Christian Wade
Like all small wingers that is the first bottle that people uncork to lob at him but one early tackle on Jean-Luc du Preez put that to bed and his goal-hanging for the match-winning try showed he still has a nose for the line. There is a bit of a queue to get into England’s senior back three but Wade, who still has one paltry full cap to his name, did not do his cause any harm. Haley had a setback. He was brilliant in the first match but an early injury saw him side-lined in the second game. He’ll be back.
Imagine what it is like if you jump on the bus from the airport to the hotel, and from the hotel to the stadium, and the bloke who is the manager of your team is one of the greatest players of all time. Not the coach, or any of his assistants, but the manager, which has a slightly different in emphasis in rugby than he does in football. A rugby manager does a lot of the meet-and-greet cobblers but if he is a big gun, and not some faceless suit, how can a young player fail to be inspired by him?
Been there, done that: Richard Hill has set an example for the Saxons to follow
Richard Hill is a big gun. He could play six, seven or eight, he was a member of England’s fabled ‘Holy Trinity’ back row alongside Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back, back in the day, and he won the World Cup. Hill went on three Lions tours, his injury in 2001 probably turned that series in Australia, and he once beat the Ospreys, when he was playing for Saracens, single-handedly, on one leg, in 2008. Hill, the only one of the 2003 heroes never to be dropped by Clive Woodward, is not one to big himself up, but if you were a young player getting on the bus and you saw Hill what would you say? It wouldn’t be ‘show us your medals’. A great appointment by the RFU, and I don’t say that often.
Fight or get on the lounger?
If you are 26-8 down on a second-team trip to South Africa, mentally you could be on the beach with the Castle Lagers out already. You have got the win in Bloemfontein, slogged your guts out for an entire Premiership season and, frankly, a couple of days on the sun lounger would not go amiss. Not a bit of it with this crew.
Contest: The Saxons showed some heart to fight till the very end against an improved South Africa A
It would have been easy to chuck the towel from Outeniqua Park straight onto the nearest sun-lounger but this team would not have it. And good luck to them – this really meant something to Dave Attwood’s team and it should mean something to every man in the England squad in Australia who will know they have got a few lads chasing their places. The Saxons only had 32 per cent possession in the first half and it showed on the scoreboard but they turned it around. This match could have had an end-of-term feel to it and, although he had bigger fish to fry in Melbourne the next day, Eddie Jones would have taken notice.
The full Test sides have only recently taken the notion of playing three-match series seriously but the Saxons, and the South Africans, could probably have squeezed one more in. That was the initial thought of this Englishman when the hosts were 26-8 up but by the time Wade scored the final try and Cipriani knocked over the conversion to give Ali Hepher’s side the series win I was thinking we should leave it at that.
Trusty boot: Danny Cipriani made sure England had won the game with a conversion
But there were a few players who did not get an innings and the scenes in the dressing room after the game in George indicated that a few of the lads would not have minded if the tour had continued for another week. The South Africans would probably have not minded another hit-out either. There is a gap between Premiership rugby, or Super Rugby, and the Test arena – these sorts of games are the perfect way of bridging it.
Treat them like Test matches and that means for officials too….
A few years’ ago in Test cricket the powers-that-be decided that all full-on games should be umpired by neutrals. That takes out the Shakoor Rana stuff that famously happened in Faisalabad in 1987 when England toured Pakistan under Mike Gatting.
On the front foot: England benefited from having the experience of players like Kieran Brookes
Younger readers might want to google that one but if these so-called second-tier games are going to be taking seriously, which they should, then World Rugby should bung the money to pay for top officials to take charge of them. The South African referee, Jaco van Heerden, and his assistants were not up to the mark in Friday’s game. So let’s get that one sorted for starters.